Sunday, 5 October 2014

Robert Farnon: Laura

The Canadian-born Robert Farnon (1917-2005) is probably one of the best-known composers of light music in the United Kingdom. Some popular pieces include Portrait of a Flirt, ‘How Beautiful is Night’ and the once-renowned ‘Colditz March’ from the iconic television series starring Robert Wagner (1972-74). Yet, he also composed a deal of ‘art’ music including two fine symphonies. The Second Symphony has been released on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7173. This CD also includes the ‘Scherzo’ from the First Symphony.
Laura is derived from the theme music composed by David Raskin (1912-2004) to the eponymous film starring Jean Tierney, Vincent Price and Dana Andrews. This 1944 film is classified as a ‘stylish murder mystery’ possibly nudging into the ‘film-noir’ genre.  Musically, the story goes that Raskin, who was a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, was asked by the film’s director Otto Preminger to come up with a ‘suitably haunting love theme.’  The only downside was that he had to compose this melody ‘over the weekend.’ He delivered the present tune on time. According to legend, it was inspired by a ‘Dear John’ letter received from a girlfriend. It was to become an ‘idée fixe’ throughout the action of the film for Laura herself. 
Lyrics were later added by Johnny Mercer:-
‘Laura is the face in the misty light,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall.
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.
Laura, song (for the film, "Laura") Lyrics
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music 

I have known Frank Sinatra’s and Andy Williams’ great recordings of this music for many years: however I never associated it with Farnon. I understand (from an article on the Farnon Society Website) that Laura was one of the composer’s personal favourite film themes. He orchestrated it shortly after the film’s release in the mid-forties and had hoped that one day it would be played by a large symphony orchestra. This was to happen a number of times, including a performance at the Royal Festival Hall in 1974. The orchestra that evening was the Royal Philharmonic Strings- with added glockenspiel, triangle, bells and harp.
Laura is arranged in the ‘full romantic style’ complete with shimmering strings. It is overblown, romantic and spine-tingling. I was reminded of Henry Mancini’s music in much of this moody, often quite introverted, piece. One commentator on the YouTube website has summed up this short piece as ‘utterly, beguilingly, outstandingly beautiful.’
Robert Farnon’s Laura is available on YouTube. It is the version with the London Philharmonic Orchestra made in 1974 and was released on Pye NSPH 400. It is now available on Lovers Love London Avid AVHN101

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